August 26, 2008
News & Opinion: Excerpt from BrandDigital
The excerpt below is from Allen Adamson's BrandDigital: Simple Ways Top Brands Succeed in the Digital World. It is excerpted from Chapter 10, "Start with a Simple Idea." Allen certainly believes in branding simplicity... his first book was BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed. Read on for the "four criteria by which a good brand driver can be judged."
Start with a Simple Idea
The best brands on the planet know the importance of basing their promise and their branding on a simple, relevantly different idea. However, the fact that it's relevantly different will become irrelevant if you cannot capture this simple idea in a blatantly clear and evocative brand driver. The fact that an idea is simple is also simply not enough. To generate branding that expresses everything you want consumers to associate with the brand, your brand driver must be intuitive enough for everyone doing the branding to understand and sticky enough for them to pass along while keeping its intent intact. Branding today is not linear: it's everywhere. A succinct, sticky, intuitive brand driver will ensure that your branding will be easily understood by those doing the branding and those influenced by the branding: the consumers. There are four criteria by which a good brand driver can be judged. To make it a snap, they all start with the letter S.
1. Simple. A brand driver must be, above all, simple in nature. It must capture the essence of the brand's promise in a way understandable, if not explainable, by a fifth grader. This is not a simple task. It's not that people aren't smart. Quite the opposite. It's that it's very difficult to get a roomful of smart people to agree on the one word, the one thought or notion that captures the essence of the brand. The very dynamics of big business, small business, any business with more than three people works against you. Group decisions are tough. The bigger the room, and the more people in it, the harder it gets. One exercise that we use with clients at Landor to meet the criterion of "simple" involves building a "story pyramid." You begin this exercise by having the group members write single words, or singular thoughts or notions about the brand's attributes or characteristics on index cards. The first task for the group is to determine which index card contains the word or notion that best conveys the point of the brand "story." This exercise will force the team to make hard choices. And that's okay. Establishing a brand driver requires making hard choices. Your brand can't stand for everything. Your goal is not to end up with a run-on sentence. The second task for the team is to use the remaining cards to build the supporting argument to the story in ascending order; to demonstrate why the idea on the pinnacle of the pyramid deserves to be on top. A good test of whether you've succeeded in your efforts is to run the idea by that fifth-grader. If the kid says, "Oh yeah, I get it!" chances are everyone else will, too. On the other hand, if the precocious kid asks, "So, what's your point?" your simple idea simply isn't ready for prime time. 2. Specific. If you tell me your brand is innovative, I'll ask you to be more precise; "innovative" in what way? When you use boilerplate words like "innovative" to describe a brand, they can be interpreted any number of ways. The words you use in a brand driver must be absolutely unambiguous in meaning and clear in intent. Because it can be very difficult for people to articulate something as precisely as necessary, we often use pictures to help our clients get to the specific word they're after. Visual cues can assist people who are trying to capture the difference between innovative as in a paper clip, and innovative as in the Click Wheel on an iPod. Another exercise to help people be more specific in their articulation of an idea is to have them express it in a book title or a movie poster. A similar exercise is to have them write a headline for an ad that succinctly and accurately captures the intent of the idea. You'll find that exercises like these help people self-edit. Once people learn to think beyond the obvious, they'll be able to hone ideas to their core. 3. Surprising. If something is surprising, it's easy to remember. Buzz words and jargon are forgettable. That's why brand drivers or mission statements filled with buzz words and jargon are often laminated or framed to hang on office walls. People forget what they say. The objective of a brand driver is to be memorable. By giving your brand driver a clever or surprising twist, it will be easy for people to remember and it will live and grow organically within the organization. A good brand driver is meant to inspire people. If it's not inspiring on its own, it will never intuitively lead to appropriate and brilliant branding executions. To determine whether your brand driver is memorable enough not to have to be laminated and framed, tell a random group of people in the organization what your intended brand driver is. Go back the next day and ask them to recite what you've told them. If the words you hope to hear trip liltingly off their tongues, you've got it. If they don't, go back to the drawing board. 4. Story-worthy. In my last book, BrandSimple, I wrote about British Petroleum which, after changing its name to BP, became associated with the phrase "Beyond Petroleum." These two simple words tell a story. If you were to write a story about an energy company that's about more than petroleum as an energy source, it might include content about solar energy or wind energy. Being about more than petroleum as an energy source implies that the company looks for new and innovative ways to power the world. Being an innovator in this respect means the company would most likely be an innovator in other respects: in the way it runs its retail establishments, treats its employees, builds its own buildings, does its advertising, or supports philanthropic organizations. A brand driver must be inspirational to the people who do the branding. To see if it is, get folks together and have each of them write a story about the brand driver and what it implies about the company. The objective is to see if they pick up the key factors. Use these stories to see if people "get it." If they do, the branding should be right on.Excerpted from BrandDigital Copyright © 2008 Allen P. Adamson, 2008 Published by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN